Jasper Public Works Director Joe Matthews said city employee Billy Wade was working on demolishing a portion of the Engel Building when the incident happened. The building is the future home of Hope Clinic.
“Hope Clinic asked us to take down parts of the building,” Matthews said. “We have an agreement with them to do that because they provide a public purpose. We’ve talked about starting this for some time, and with the weather we’ve had, it freed us up to be able to start on it.”
Matthews said the demolition began Tuesday with sections of the roof being removed. With the track hoe inside the building, Wade hit a soft spot in the floor and the machine tipped.
“It basically just turned on its side and Billy was able to climb out of it,” Matthews said.
Members of the Jasper Fire Department arrived on the scene before Wade made his way out of the track hoe.
“We got the call that a worker had fallen in the creek beside the building,” Jasper Fire Capt. David Lockhart said. “When we got there, we saw he was in the track hoe, sunk down into the building.”
Lockhart said Wade was not trapped, but firefighters did assist him in exiting the machine and the surrounding rubble.
Wade suffered no injuries during the incident and was working at the scene later in the day.
“It made me think,” Wade said. “I was just thinking how far was it going to sink. There was still more space below so it could have went further.”
Wade said most of the building was down before the track hoe started to tip.
“I was moving to the front of the building,” he said. “I was trying to be careful and take it down a little at a time. I was also being careful because Hope Clinic was using the part of the building that we weren’t tearing down. As I went across to the front, that’s when it started to slip.”
Matthews said crews worked at the building, which is located at the corner of 1st Avenue and 19th Street, for most of the day. “We wanted to take down the free standing walls that were left,” he said. “We were able to bump those down so nothing could fall.”
Debris removal will continue this morning, Matthews said.
“We will work slowly to remove the debris around the track hoe so we can stand it back up and get it out of there,” Matthews said. “Then we will continue with removing the remainder of the debris.”
Don Goetz, chairman of Hope Clinic’s board of directors, said Tuesday’s incident will not affect the group’s use of the building.
“Our board had made the decision to tear down two-thirds of the building,” Goetz said. “The older portion of the building, which is more than 100 years old, is still standing and is in good shape. That’s the portion we were going to use.”
Goetz said he felt the collapse could be a blessing in disguise.
“First of all, we are thankful no one was hurt,” he said. “We are also thankful, because we believe the process will be expediated because of this. We appreciate the work the city was doing, and we appreciate the work they will continue to do to help Hope Clinic.”